West Yorkshire Police Accused Of Copyright Theft

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Forensic telecoms expert claims West Yorkshire Police stole its software and sold copyright data on

West Yorkshire Police goes to the High Court today, accused of copyright theft by a firm that specialises in analysing mobile phone data.

Forensic Telecommunications services (FTS)  claims the police force illegally used and sold copyright data from a commercial mobile phone forensics application it had been using in high profile cases.

Pulling data from phones

FTS specialises in extracting and analysing data from mobile phones – even where the SIM card is absent. Its software has been used in a number of security and terrorism cases, most notably the investigation and successful prosecution of the UK’s largest ever robbery when £53m was stolen from a Securitas depot in Kent in 2006.

FTS software was used to analyse some 300 mobile phones. forensic access to mobile phone data is a touchy subject, and has caused issues with mobile vendor RIM. IT equipment generally – and storage devices in particular –  is a source of forensic data that police are increasingly tapping.

FTS alleges that West Yorkshire Police used material from its software package Hex, which allows investigators to extract data from mobile phones including call registries, deleted texts and identify SIM cards that have been used, even if the phone has been burnt or stamped on.

The claim was filed at the end of May 2009 and accuses West Yorkshire Police of taking copyright data from Hex’s manuals to develop its own mobile phone forensics application.

FTS says that these lists were the product of “extensive research within the R&D department” and had been continually updated since development of Hex began in 2003. FTS says that these lists are not available in the public domain.

Biting the hand that feeds

Hex was released in 2006 and FTS became aware that West Yorkshire Police was developing its own software called CLIVE in the summer of that year. The claim alleges that CLIVE replicated errors found in the lists used for Hex in a “tell-tale sign of copying.”

FTS raised these concerns with West Yorkshire Police in late 2006, but the force went on to repeat alleged infringement in 2007 when it updated the software, now named OLIVE,  and made it commercially available.

Managing Director Shaun Hipgrave told BBC’s Today programme, “West Yorkshire Police, working out of their high-tech crime unit had access to a vital list that is part of our software. The license holder was there legitimately working on behalf of a case. We say that West Yorkshire Police copied that list.”

FTS says that the license was the security services who took FTS’ software and these lists into West Yorkshire Police’s high-tech crime unit where they were working on a joint counter-terrorism investigation, Operation Praline.

Hipgrave commented, “The police are our customers and are we biting the hand that feeds us? We felt we’ve got no choice because we are a small company who are innovative and provide this kind of software in the fight against terrorism and crime and our intellectual property and our copyright is absolutely integral to that and we have to protect it.”

In a statement to the BBC, West Yorkshire Police said it strongly refutes FTS’ claim and that they are going to challenge it in the High Court today.

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